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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Republican Win Dims Hope for Climate Bill

Air Date: Week of

Senator-elect Scott Brown expressed skepticism during his campaign about the human role in global warming. According to the Boston Globe he said, “I think the globe is always heating and cooling. It's a natural way of ebb and flow.”

Scott Brown's surprise victory in the Massachusetts Senator race hasn't just upset plans to pass health care reform, it's also made climate change legislation more unlikely. Host Jeff Young talks with Darren Samuelsohn, senior reporter for Environment & Energy Daily, about what the new Senate math will mean for efforts to cap greenhouse gas emissions.


YOUNG: Massachusetts, the cradle of the American Revolution, just saw another small political revolt. The Senate seat held by the late Democratic liberal lion Ted Kennedy for 47 years went to a Republican, Scott Brown. The dramatic upset gives Republicans 41 seats in the Senate – enough to filibuster legislation, a fact Brown’s supporters celebrated on election night.


YOUNG: Brown’s victory presents a major hurdle to President Obama’s agenda, including a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. That bill passed the House but is struggling in the Senate, and that’s where we caught up with Environment and Energy News Senior Reporter Darren Samuelsohn. Darren, 41 – that’s the new math. What does that mean for the climate bill?

SAMUELSOHN: The climate bill was never going to be easy before the Massachusetts election, it got a drop harder just in the simple math with Scott Brown who appears to be a skeptic on the science on climate change and an opponent of federal cap-and-trade policies.

Now, all that said, he’s going to come to Washington and meet a large force in John Kerry, Joe Lieberman, and Lindsey Graham – all of whom have been working for several months to try and come up with some sort of compromise package. But at the same time, moderate Democrats already expressing significant worry that this is not the right time to be focusing on a climate bill, it’s better to be focusing on economic recovery and jobs, a lot of the key focal point issues that you heard in the Massachusetts special election.

YOUNG: And are they casting an eye toward the midterm elections now when they say those things?

SAMUELSOHN: These are senators that are up for re-election and maybe senators who are up in another two or four years – yeah, I think a whole range of Senate Democrats from Carl Levin to Diane Feinstein were all expressing worry about moving forward on a big comprehensive cap and-trade-bill.

You know, the idea of a controversial item like healthcare is something that makes Democrats nervous, but there’s an important distinction to make between healthcare and the climate bill, and that is with healthcare it was largely partisan – the Democrats were trying to move that just with Democrats.

Senator-elect Scott Brown expressed skepticism during his campaign about the human role in global warming. According to the Boston Globe he said, “I think the globe is always heating and cooling. It's a natural way of ebb and flow.”

With the climate and energy bill there’s always been efforts to try and get Republicans, that’s taking into account there were going to be some Democrats were going to vote “no” on this no matter what. Ben Nelson and Mary Landrieu come to mind as the most likely no votes. So, they’ve always been working with the assumption that they needed Republicans and Lindsey Graham was the first to cross over that line. But then beyond that a lot of the Republican possibilities haven’t looked very promising recently.

YOUNG: There’s been some noise about abandoning the cap-and-trade aspect of this and advancing with the other elements of an energy bill instead – do you think that effort maybe has gained steam here?

SAMUELSOHN: It’s gained a little bit of steam. I mean, it’s the most likely alternative to move forward where you’re going to get Republicans support; the problem becomes how many Democrats are going to want to go along on a bill that does cap carbon.

There are a good number of liberal Democrats who have been pushing and pushing and pushing for this for a long time. And see this as their best opportunity; certainly this Congress is probably the greenest Congress you’re ever going to get. You’ve got their champions in the White House and running the federal agencies, and in the key committees, you’ve got speaker Pelosi running the House of Representatives, Henry Waxman in charge of the House energy committee, Barbara Boxer in charge of the Senate environment committee; so, you really couldn’t have had a better lineup to try and get this thing through. And however the politics of this in Washington have always been difficult and they remain difficult, and they’re even more difficult now after this Massachusetts election.

YOUNG: So as the dust begins to settle after this big upset in Massachusetts, what’s your read on the chances for a climate change bill this year?

SAMUELSOHN: You know, I’m going to give the odds maybe 20, 20 percent chance, but maybe even less than that right now. It’s going to be a huge lift for Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman to pull it off. There’s going to need to be a lot of tradeoffs, and then of course whatever they pull off they have to then negotiate with the House, which passed what it passed last year, and that’s a pretty aggressive, sweeping bill so will the House be willing to come back to what the Senate has put forward? And that’s something we’re seeing happen on healthcare, and that’s been difficult for Democrats to just negotiate with Democrats.

YOUNG: Darren Samuelsohn, Senior Reporter for Environment and Energy News, speaking with us from Capitol Hill. Thanks a lot.

SAMUELSON: Thanks for having me.



For more on what the Scott Brown will mean for climate change legislation, click here.


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